LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The criticism of Harold Baines’ surprise election to the Hall of Fame was in many cases over-the-top and in some cases embarrassingly immature. In a rush to destroy the decision of the Veterans Committee, some critics also destroyed Baines, who didn’t deserve that. It’s debatable whether he merits inclusion among baseball’s ultra elites, but a couple greats who faced him applauded that call, fighting back against the critics, many of whom were overzealous.
“He hit like .400 off me. He wore me out, so I thought he was a great player,” said Hall of Famer Jack Morris. “In my experience he is a Hall of Famer.” Dave Stewart, who won 20 games four straight years, said, “This guy could (bleeping) hit. And it didn’t matter who was pitching. That’s what makes a Hall of Famer.”
Morris wasn't quite right about the stats, but Baines did have impressive at-bats against him; Baines' career line against the longtime ace was .294/.380/.800 with three home runs, 19 RBI and 17 walks, with just 19 strikeouts in 137 at-bats.
Stewart went on to name a couple others who are favored by the new crowd he doesn’t see as Hall of Famers. But as for Baines, he does see him as Cooperstown worthy. Baines was painted by critics as a total product of longevity when the reality is that no one who isn’t really good gets to play 22 years. In those more than two decades, Baines had more than 2,800 hits, more than 1,600 RBI and made six All-Star teams.
I was in the vast majority who didn’t vote for Baines in the BBWAA tallies, when he peaked at six percent. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a fantastic career. He did. Perhaps the Veterans Committee is a little more lenient than the writers. And perhaps they bring a perspective of an older crowd. Perhaps that isn’t so terrible. The writers have been too tough (a lower percentage of players from the second half the 20th century have gotten in) and it isn’t so bad to allow the more experienced group to have their say. “I get what the issues are, especially guys stepping through the crack,” Morris said. “But that’s why you have second opinions.”
In one article condemning the vote — and Baines — the author even got in a shot at Morris, a favorite whipping boy of the new-stat guys (I voted for Morris 15 times out of 15 and he won a majority of votes his last years on the BBWAA ballot before the Veterans Committee voted him in), saying that Baines’ claim to fame, like Morris’, was a product of “durability.” Morris said durability isn’t such a bad thing, and I agree.
But my real issue there is that anyone old enough to have seen Morris’ career would understand that what he was known for was racking up wins — and big wins — and complete games as the No. 1 pitcher on three World Series winners, including 1991, when he won Game 7 with the most memorable pitching performances in modern history.
Perhaps Baines was fortunate to have a committee stocked with folks who were key to his career — White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, former White Sox manager Tony La Russa and former Orioles GM Pat Gillick — and that is an issue with such a small group making these calls. No doubt that trio persuaded many of the others to favor Baines. But that doesn’t change the fact he was an extremely good player for a very long period of time, one who was more appreciated in his day, and by his peers, than by the WAR counters.
“If you didn’t play with him,” Stewart said, “you couldn’t have any idea how good a hitter he was.”
Jon Heyman is Fancred's baseball insider. He publishes his weekly Inside Baseball column each Thursday on the App and FancredSports.com. You can download the App here and interact with Jon by following him right here.